That’s what a forty-six-year-old white man said to my sixteen-year-old daughter when she told him recently that no, she didn’t him to hug her. “No thanks,” she said. “I don’t feel like a hug right now.” Any fully functioning adult human would have said to my daughter’s clear response, “Okay sounds great have a good one!” and gone about his day. To a fully functioning adult human old enough to understand, ‘No’ would mean No. But not to this creep. “Oh, come on.” he said. “Be Nice.”
My daughter’s heart sped up. She said “I have to go,” and she turned and walked away fast to find me in another room. This was a small, invisible interaction lost in a crowded party, but it is an enormous piece of the larger clusterfuck of the reality known as Rape Culture; a million little stabs that make up, and are indicative of, the slashing knife wound of the absolute bullshit women all over the world endure every minute of our lives. We are supposed to stay quiet, Be Nice and keep men happy at the expense of our own humanity. And sanity.
Translation: I want to put my arms around your body and I am a man so I am entitled to do this, you are a girl and you need to Be Nice and let me.
Earlier, I watched this same man reach over the back of a sofa to put his hands on a seventy-year-old woman and grab fistfuls of her skin though her clothes to tickle her. She said, Stop. He kept grabbing her. She said No. He kept on. She said Stop again. He still would not. Finally, she spoke his name sharply, said Stop a fourth time, and jerked her body out of his reach. Only then did he drop his hands and laugh. Like the nonsense with my daughter, this crap happened in a busy group of people and conversation, a small, insular moment that took maybe thirty seconds. The woman got up to walk away and so did I, my insides twisted, but I said nothing so to not disrupt the party by daring to speak up for this adult woman who had chosen to keep this man close in her life despite the fact his veins run bright with the color of a thousand Red Flags. I wish I had said something along the lines of Fuck off, you creepy creep! But it is ingrained in me, decades of being taught to Be Nice.
This demeaning, entitled language and behavior will always be justified, forever protected by fellow creepy men and the women who are taught to Be Nice and contribute to our own dehumanization and that of our sisters. Boys Will Be Boys. Why Can’t You Take A Joke. He’s Just Awkward. Every excuse for men to asy and do what they want, when they want, to our bodies to our lives, and the apologists will always rush in to make certain the creeps feel comfortable doing it. Our kids who are young teenagers, my daughter, have grown up only ever knowing a black, feminist president and real hope that a woman would lead us next. In just two years since Hillary Clinton won four millon more votes than her white male primary opponent, and three million more votes than her white male general election opponent (but was still robbed of the her right to lead this nation) my daughter has, along with all of us, been bombarded with the very loud voices of entitled toxic mysoginist old white men.
If it’s not 45’s non-stop sexual assualt and racism, it’s the grating shouts of that elderly white presidential-hopeful senator from Vermont calling teachers “Old bitches” and defending his essays about women getting cancer from not enough orgasms, and how women all have gang rape fantasies, or it’s frat culture personified with the disgusting ramblings of the life-time appointed drunk white male rapist on the Supreme Court, eager to take away women’s human and reproductive rights the second he gets the chance, or it’s creepy old white pretend nice guy Joe who can’t keep his hands or his rape-culture comments (“How old are you, thriteen? Well aren’t you beautiful!”) to himself.
Every. Goddamned. Day. I could lay down and never stop crying.
Except that’s not how this is going to play out. We are done with this garbage. And by we I mean you and me. Our daughters and sons. Let’s Stop. Being. Nice. (To the creeps, I mean.) I am teaching my daughter to ignore the filthy drunk rapist at the confirmation hearings and instead focus on the brave, glorious strong and true testimony of heroine Dr. Christine Blasey-Ford. I am teaching her to listen to her instincts and take care herself and not the feelings of a medicore forty-six year old man. My daughter will not feel powerless. She will not be nice to spare some creep’s fragile ego. She will know she has the right, the obligation, to tell that man, “You are not welcome in my home. You are not owed my proximity, my time, you are not entitled to me in any way, ever.” And I will cheer her honesty and back up her boundaries with the ferocity only a mother can wield - physically if I must. Verbally with joy. Starting with a well-intended Fuck. You. But only if she needs me. She is a tiny yet towering pillar of her own ferocious bravery. Her words are magic.
Words matter. They can be used to by mediocre men to make disgusting language to try and intimidate and threaten so to keep their perceived entitled power. But words are also, and more so, powerful weapons of education and empathy in this war that we are, in this Year of Our Beyoncé 2019 for fuck’s sake, still fighting. Here are a few of my favorite books and authors whose words are shining a blinding light, Agent Scully style, into the face of Creepy-ass Rape Culture. Give these books to the creep in your life who could use some book learnin’. Give them to your friends, your family, to yourself, share them and celebrate women and the men who truly advocate for us. I love you all so much. Now be nice and let me hug you! (Too soon? Fuck that, let’s take Nice back! As in, We are going to Be Nice and give you these books instead of kicking you in the balls if you ever say shit like that to me or my daughter ever again K thnx Byeee!)
Tarana Burke WHERE THE LIGHT ENTERS: THE FOUNDING OF THE MET TOO MOVEMENT (Simon & Shuster 2019 Publishing soon)
Co-authored by Asha Bandele, the book aims to "help readers understand the often overlooked historical connections of the role sexual violence plays in communities of color, specifically black communities, even today while exploring ways the same communities have been both complicit and resilient," according to a statement released by Burke. “More than anything," the statement continued, "this memoir will provide survivors across the spectrum of sexual abuse a roadmap for healing that helps them understand that the ‘me too’ movement is more about triumph than trauma and that our wounds, though they may never fully heal, can also be the key to our survival.”
Tarana Burke was born in the Bronx, New York, and raised in the area. She grew up in a low-income, working-class family in a housing project and was raped and sexually assaulted both as a child and a teenager. Her mother supported her recovery from these violent acts and encouraged her to be involved in the community. In her biography she states that these experiences inspired her to work to improve the lives of girls who undergo extreme hardships.In 2006, Burke began using the phrase “Me Too” to raise awareness of the pervasiveness of sexual abuse and assault in society, and the phrase developed into a broader movement, following the 2017 use of #MeToo as a hashtag following the Harvey Weinstein sexual abuse allegations. Time magazine named Burke, among a group of other prominent activists dubbed "the silence breakers" as the Person of the Year 2017.
Amber J Keyser NO MORE EXCUSES (Twenty First Century Books 2019)
This important text on rape culture explores gender norms, the intersection of race and gender, and how the transgender population is disproportionately affected by rape. Keyser also offers a timely discussion of how restorative justice can address the needs of all affected in cases of sexual harassment or violence. The design makes this volume highly readable, with highlighted quotes by teens, politicians, activists, and feminists, as well as color and captioned photographs and bold-faced inserts. Vignettes of societal responses to rape and its long-term effects on victims are varied and include interviews with teens and stories about the origins of activist organizations. Also featured is up-to-date information on legislation such as Title IX and age-of-consent laws. The author dismantles myths around rape, such as the prevalence of false reports, which in fact account for less than 10 percent of all reported cases. The back matter includes extensive source notes, a glossary, further reading lists - both fiction and nonfiction - films, and hashtags. While a global perspective is lacking, this excellent volume can be paired with recent YA fiction titles and Rupi Kaur’s poetry that also call into question the deep-rooted gender norms of rape culture. VERDICT Highly recommended for every library that serves teens. – School Library Journal, Starred
Laurie Halse Anderson SHOUT (Viking 2019)
Bestselling author Laurie Halse Anderson is known for the unflinching way she writes about, and advocates for, survivors of sexual assault. Now, inspired by her fans and enraged by how little in our culture has changed since her groundbreaking novel Speak was first published twenty years ago, she has written a poetry memoir that is as vulnerable as it is rallying, as timely as it is timeless. In free verse, Anderson shares reflections, rants, and calls to action woven between deeply personal stories from her life that she’s never written about before. Searing and soul-searching, this important memoir is a denouncement of our society’s failures and a love letter to all the people with the courage to say #metoo and #timesup, whether aloud, online, or only in their own hearts. Shout speaks truth to power in a loud, clear voice– and once you hear it, it is impossible to ignore.
“The benefit of this book is undeniable - it’s a primer on writing and on living, and both Speak and Anderson’s effect on teens has never waned. But more than that, it is a captivating, powerful read about clawing your way out of trauma, reclaiming your body, and undoing lifetimes of lessons in order to use your voice as the weapon it is. Fervent and deafening.” – Booklist, Starred
Roxanne Gay HUNGER (Harper 2017)
It’s hard to imagine this electrifying book being more personal, candid, or confessional. . . In 88 short, lucid chapters, Gay powerfully takes readers through realities that pain her, vex her, guide her, and inform her work. The result is a generous and empathic consideration of what it’s like to be someone else: in itself something of a miracle. – Booklist, Starred
Joy McCullough BLOOD WATER PAINT (Dutton 2018)
“For lovers of writers like Laurie Halse Anderson and An Na, Blood Water Paint is feminist historical fiction written in verse, giving readers a glimpse into the teen’s most intimate thoughts while highlighting a centuries-old, yet startlingly familiar time and place where men took what they wanted from women with practically no consequences.” - Bustle
“An incandescent retelling both timeless and, alas, all too timely.” – Kirkus, Starred
Karen Kilgariff & Georgia Hardstark STAY SEXY & DON’T GET MURDERED: THE DEFINITIVE GUIDE (Forge Books May 28, 2019)
A Dual Memoir by the hosts of the Podcast MY FAVORITE MURDER, this is an also an instructional manual about how we can learn to truly listen to our instincts and take care of ourselves, instead of the delicate feelings of would-be creeps and murderers who want us to be nice to them – cut to, you wake up duct taped to a water tank in his basement. Georgia and Karen are also sick to death of putting themselves in danger for the sake of Being Nice, and their motto to this end is beautiful and more to the point: Fuck Politeness. Don’t worry about hurting some dude’s feelings by keeping yourself safe any way you need to. You can always apologize later and if he’s a man living in America in this century and has even a modicum of common sense he will understand and be cool. As our girls say, “Pepper spray first. Apologize later.” SSDGM.